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Summer calls for parties. Any occasion will do. It doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to involve lots of cooking and it doesn’t have to be expensive. For this one we just got a couple boxes of Perk!er treats - Rocky Road bites with lots of chocolate, biscuits and marshmallows, ideal for sharing. They are gluten free but everybody absolutely loves them. You can, if you really want to indulge, use them for a chocolate fondue… Go crazy. Get out all those accessories stocked for nice occasions (and in the end, barely used). Go bright pink, then add turquoise and neon green. It’s July, it’s allowed, it works. Put fruit with the cakes and sprinkle with a rain of tiny flowers. Tea should be served iced (and possibly with sunglasses). Sometimes, just a little imagination is enough to make you feel on holiday in the garden…
Gluten and wheat free but full of happiness! #summerperk
Perk!er, gloriously gluten free
Tesco, Sainsbury’s & Asda
Kanab, sweet little town, famous in its time for the Western movies staged there. Here too, you will find sand dunes. Not as imposing as the Great Sand Dunes, sure, but irresistible all the same. Tinted a pink-orangy colour, duly named coral pink sand dunes, echoing the surrounding canyon rock. Nature is ever-present - jackrabbits, beetles, seas of yellow blooms like minature suns, glimpses of violet petals. As quickly covered as they had appeared, often half buried, creating sharp shadows around. The blurry features on the pictures? The wind sculpting the tip of the dunes, dancing the sand away. Such a soothing music to the ears, a little more brutal feeling on the legs. On that day there was a photo-shoot, young, beautiful girls in bikinis posing patiently, waves of tiny grains whipping them from time to time. Further on, wheel traces. Yes, parts of the park are accessible to ATVs if you like sensational rides!
Propose a gluten-free snack to a friend on a normal diet and just watch their reaction. Perplexed usually sums it up well. In people’s minds, gluten-free definitely means fun-free. Then again, at the beginning, it probably was. The first range of products were practical, forgetting the flavour factor altogether. Basics only. These days, supermarkets always have a few shelves dedicated to these and they taste much, much better. However, if you’re looking for something a bit fancier, you will have to go fishing, a little in this shop, a little more in that, juggling around.
Or you could try Freego, an extraordinary collection of the best gluten free products on the market, selected from all around the world. Some in my shopping bag were American, others French. Quality wise, this is more deli than supermarket. Being a foodie and rather curious, I had quite a fun time. Choosing and devouring! I did expect the bill to be high but no, it proved quite reasonable. My order below was just under £20.
Bonus point for the delivery option - within 24 hours and you will receive a SMS when it is ready to go, confirming the day and time window. And even the possibility to text back and ask for the driver to bring it a day later or leave it at your neighbour’s.
Verdict? I knew the products would be good but they were better than that. Refined, even. Like going to Selfridges and choosing from their latest trends. But hey, have a look at my selection below, it will give you a feel. The pumpkin bread mix was rather a hit, filling the house with scents of cinnamon and nutmeg while in the oven. A lighter (and better) version of gingerbread. Another favourite was rice cakes covered in super delicious dark chocolate. You will forget any junk food snack instantly. This is a hundred times better and no, I am not exaggerating. What else? Really satisfying fettuccine made with mungo beans, more Spring like. Super savoury-sweet, bacon-maple syrup popcorn that really wowed the kids. Dried physalis, golden berries bringing a lovely tart taste, a nice change from the usual dried fruit.
A real booty for any foodie, no matter whether you are coeliac or not. Collections are cleverly organised in lunch box, on the go, kids, dinner party, just in case… Makes life so much easier.
Use the code REFER10-7dsa8d3h2 to get £10 off an order of £20 or more. Give it a try!
27 degrees, sun shining high, yes, summer is here for real. It’s picnic time, my friends! Last minute idea, no time to prepare anything? Mark & Spencer has just launched a special deli collection, inspired by South America and the Eastern Med. So forget classics for a while, indulge. We tried the smoked Lochmuir salmon, rich, just the right hint of salt, sharpened by a lime, chilli and ginger dressing, zesty, wakes you up a little. Still on the seaside, how about chargrilled calamari to be dipped in a spicy sauce with a little mint, fresh spring onions and herbs. It’s even better as a mini skewer combined with the ruby and golden beetroot medley, marinated in a basalmic and maple dressing. It’s fun, it’s different and it makes lunch time so much more interesting than eating a triangle sandwich over your desk.
To be tasted too: tequila-lime chicken wings, tomato-basil hummus, mini kebabs with pomegranate and cumin, soy-lemongrass-chilli chicken and more!
Smoked Scottish Lochmuir™ Salmon with a zesty Lime, Chilli & Ginger Dressing, £6, 160g
Chargrilled Calamari with Lime, Chilli & Mint, £4.50, 140g
Ruby & Golden Beetroot Medley, £3, 150g
Christmas in July? Yes, it is too early to see anything on the shelves yet (thank God) but shop managers, magazines are already working on it, finding the right trends, wondering what will make you dream, seduce your imagination this year, stocking up, photoshooting… These are the real Santa’s Elves, trying to make the christmas shopping experience sparkle with glitter.
I will be going to a number of press days in the coming weeks but to me the real treat is Carluccio’s. Always a privilege, always a feast from the decor to the dolce vita atmosphere. I finger-cross for my favourite sweets to still be on the top list, long to discover the new ones, to walk from one range to another with a succulent piece of cake or nougat.
This year, the collection found inspiration in Napoli. Right outside the door, the landscape had already changed to an impressive orange tree loaded with fruit. And surrounded with snow. It’s Christmas, after all. On the side sat a giant panettone, encouraging the visitors’ appetites. And yet, it was ever so nice, in this sunshine, to sit down on the stone benches and sip a citrus granita.
The tasting soon begins and believe me, you can’t help but smile. The favourites are still there: Clementine in camicia, clementine quarters dipped in rich chocolate (a must have!), baci di dama (a biscuit known as the ladies’ kisses), meringues wrapped in gianduja, stelle di natale, star shaped biscuits presented in jars. Panettones (classic or chocolate, yes two of them, dark and milk shavings) boxes are covered with gold letters, the pandore with Venitian style marbled paper. Both can be topped with a flame fountain if you want to put a show on (and yes, you do. Or you should. When else can you wow people with such things?).
On my love at first sight (or bite, depending on the case) list… Two hampers particularly caught my attention – one celebrating lemon (includes amongst other rewards a divine lemon olive oil), another chocolate (with surprising cacao parpadelle). At £30 and £25, you will struggle to find a better quality/price ratio for a foodie gift! The lovely glass biscuit jars are back too and there are tin boxes too for biscotti and coffee, an irresistible vintage touch.
If you have a sweet tooth, you will fall for the Perle di Mandorloto (torrone, almonds, honey rolled in caramel and white chocolate balls), the pistachio torrone, the fichi al rhum (figs, walnuts, candied citrus and rum – this will make your cheeks go slightly pink), limoncello rum babas (although you probably will have devoured them before they reach the friend or relative they were meant for).
Also, as addictive as popcorn, a Napolitan specialty, stuffoli. Deep fried tiny pieces of dough, rolled in honey, hundreds and thousands and candied fruit. Delicious. Sadly, I’ll have to wait until November for these to reach the shelves… But it’s first on my list and I’m not sharing!
Being a froggie, I am often asked – is there anything you particularly miss from France?
Real bread with excellent cheese.
In the beginning, I wondered whether England only produced Cheddar, Stilton and Wensleydale. The list is much longer, of course and much more interesting. However, finding the good ones is a bit trickier. Not if you live in London – great cheesemongers there (Neal’s Yard, Paxton and Whitfield to only name the most famous) and fabulous markets. Now if you live in say, Farnborough, no fromager around. The nearest farmer’s market is once every two weeks, a one hour drive.
I need a magic formula that would make a cheese platter appear on the table, effortless.
And I found it. Just say (well, type) The Dairy Girl.
This is the best foodie box on the market as far as I am concerned. I’m French – trust me. One of those surprise boxes you subscribe and receive once a month with the impatience of a child on Christmas day. There are 3 options to choose from – taster (4 to try), classic (5, it’s all in the name, ideal comfort food!), gourmet (5, more on the adventure side. Don’t hesitate, go straight to this one). The idea of course is to enjoy and discover, never knowing what will come your way. You can however tweak what you do or don’t like and it will be tailored to your taste. Rachel is passionate and about knowing the artisans doing the hard work, making a point of getting all the details just right. She will not compromise on quality. You know it from her very first email. I love her all the more for it.
The parcel arrives on the set day, well packaged with paper straw, very countryside like, bringing a hint of nostalgia, and tiny frozen cushions to keep it fresh all along. It reminds me of school fairs, trying to find a surprise in a barrel, the excitement of it. Each cheese comes with a very precise card, written in a warm, friendly way. You’ll learn everything about it – name, origin, type of milk, anecdotes of the way it was made, which wine to match it to, how best to serve it. I am very fond of the proposed twists – melt the Keltic gold and add a pinch of nutmeg. Crumble the Cornish Blue on sauteed leeks and mushrooms. Brilliant.
I took the cheeses out of the box. One by one. The wrapping made me happy - proper cheesemonger style. I tried to guess them by shape alone, tried to imagine them from their name. I love the way a piece of cheese owns the space around it. It has a physical presence – tall and towering, lower, cream and ash, marbled and artistic. Then the aroma, milky or strong, overtaking your senses.
Patience has its limits – it was time to try them. The creamy, perfect Pont L’Eveque (I had to be patriotic on that one, it had to be the first). Then another way to discover England. From Corwall, a beautiful Cornish Blue, subtle, slightly salty, then exploding in flavours. And a Keltic Gold, the rind washed with cider, filling the mouth, supple, I have a thousand recipes planned for this one. From Somerset, a fabulous Tor, creamy, refreshing, a hint of lemon, very addictive. And my favourite, a real gem, Smoked Wedmore, crossed by a line of chives, to which I always go back, slightly sweet, between the grass at the end of summer and a fire in the hearth in autumn.
This gourmet selection has 900g of cheese – enough to be shared for quite some time without sacrificing your appetite. Then again, these are cheeses with a personality, fulfilling flavours. They do not call for excess, just ask to be enjoyed with as much love as rachel put into choosing them. Preferably several times a day starting with breakfast.
Hema has saved me more than once. The Dutch brand is my favourite treasure chest – hundreds of colourful, fun, adorable accessories. More importantly, perfectly prices. Not too expensive, not too cheap – exactly what I would have paid had I been asked what the value was. With no guilt in mind, you fill entire baskets! This is where I find inspiration for photoshoots, nice touches to highlight a picnic, a brunch table, kids parties (from the organisation to the birthday presents), even rather cool office supplies. Little nothings that make such a huge difference.
I first discovered the brand in Antwerp. I knew it was popular, got curious. The result? I filled half a suitcase with melamine plates, T-shirts for the children, funky sweets. Later, they set up shops in Paris and in my hometown, Bordeaux. Each time I go back, I stock up. Closer to me, not close enough. But hey, this is it, Hema has finally opened not one but two shops in London. A third is on the way!
Why so happy? It just makes my life so easy. My daughter wanted to plan a sleepover with her best friend. She’s 8 but these days, it almost means they are teenagers. Pop songs and neon colours, dancing and singing, giggling and whispering. But still on the sweet side – there are still hugs and My Little Ponies, modern version. And so we made cupcakes with a twist, baking them in ice cream cones instead, adding rainbow sparkles. On the table, paper umbrellas, sugar confetti, doilies turned into favours and filled with treats, I recall them jumping in joy. I also got them notebooks and stickers, turned within minutes into secret diaries. Add a manicure session with sorbet-coloured nail varnish (at that price, the fact that it would have to disappear before Monday morning barely mattered. We’re all princesses at heart). And you know what? It cost me less than taking them to see a movie with popcorn and sodas.
As addictive as Ikea.
Victoria Place Shopping Centre
115 Buckingham Palace Road
London SW1W 9SJ
24 Clarence Street
Kingston upon Thames
Surrey KT1 1NX
Back from a wonderful roadtrip in the US, five weeks going round National Parks, stunning hikes, breathtaking landscapes, a few days to explore San Francisco. One of those trips that makes you feel so much richer, an emotional journey, giving you a new respect for the strength of nature. Oh, that space, the seemingly limitless canyons and sky!
A road trip is also… endless driving, hours in a row. In my case, 8850 km to be exact. Amazing that on a map, everything seems so close, so manageable. 3 hours? Sure, easy! On the way, I found comfort in American diners. Juicy, tender burgers. Skyscraper like, piling on layers of cheese, lettuce, tomato, double or triple patties, mushrooms, avocado, anything you can dream of, impossible to get your mouth around. Mexican dishes too, succulent chili, nachos, tamales. A Navajo version of tacos, with deep-fried bread. And the 25 flavours of milkshakes at Sonic Drive-In, your order brought to your car by a waitress on roller skates. In a nutshell, a few more kilos went straight in the suitcases, a few more on my hips.
Time to be reasonable, find a healthier way of living, lighten up a little. The idea made me sigh, to be honest.
Remember, I had discovered a while back Perk!er, a gluten free brand. Although I am not allergic to gluten, some of my friends are so I could share treats rather than buying two different products. But in the end, I was rather seduced by the taste and kept loyal to it. It’s often by stepping away from your habits that you find the best treats. Another bonus point? The texture and flavour are so satisfying I am not tempted by snacks later on.
Perk!ier had a surprise for me. A mystery box arrived in the post. Perk Up Your Summer, it said. Try something different! Do they read minds, I wonder? Inside was a kit to start exercising, gently. Inspiration, finally - just what I needed. Efficient but not threatening. Alternating effort and reward. I started with pilates and yoga, keeping the Perk!er creamy porridge in a corner, the promise of a nice breakfast enticing. Then the kids jumped in, giving me challenges. Could I prepare cereals for everyone, with one free hand only, weights in the other? How many yellow objects could I find in the room, jumping up and down my exercise ball? They are tough coaches, I tell you. Right after getting up! I had to escape, going for power walks in the nearby forest, taking a rocky road or tiffin along with a flask of water infused with lime and fresh mint. The right balance between detox and pleasure.
Who would have thought sport could be such fun? Go on. Give it a try…
Gluten and wheat free but full of happiness! #summerperk
Perk!er, gloriously gluten free
Tesco, Sainsbury’s & Asda
Yes, I’m back in the UK. Of course there was chocolate waiting for me when I arrived. There is a reason I was nicknamed Chocoralie, you see -chocolate finds me.
This one brings together two brands - the superb vintage patterns by Betty and Walker and the sweetest creations by award-winning Creighton’s Chocolaterie. The beauty of the first, in cheerful, full-of-vitamins colours, wraps the delicious bites of the other. They were meant to be, surely, such a perfect match. Refined design, nostalgic fonts, transparent paper teasing you, shall it be slowly undone or torn apart, the sugar call stronger than reason?
The chocolate melts immediately on your tongue, such comfort, bringing memories of French goûters with just a warm baguette and milk chocolate. The cacao is so very supple, in turns lyrical with its floral rose notes then crunchy, unexpected almond pieces.
More to discover in this collection – fig and pink pepper with dark chocolate, pineapple and dark chocolate, peach-raspberry with white chocolate. To be devoured!
Summer holidays to me mean jumping in the car and driving a long distance to somewhere really fun. There will be motorways then countryside lanes, a cheerful playlist, new landscapes to discover, happiness and impatience to get to the next stop. Walks and hikes and picnics.
Sadly, especially if you have kids, you also know how chaotic the car will get. And how, hum, aromas will develop - food left to macerate a little too long in the sun… Shoes taken off after a couple hours walking… Oh la la!
We all know Febreze although I never thought of it as a car essential. Makes so much sense, of course. Now, they have given 3 Brits a challenge. Yes, 3 guys, one car, a roadtrip through Europe, a few ordeals and Febreze tools to keep the car clean and Fresh. Have a look at the videos – so funny! Denise Van Outen even makes a suprise appearance in the intro. The adventure is not finished yet, there will be more to come.
The bonus, for you? There is a #drivehappy kit to be won on the blog. Ideal for the holidays!
- A backseat organiser to keep your car neat and tidy.
- A Febreze CAR Fresh Clip to ensure your car smells fresh.
- A CD of top driving songs you can car-aoke to on your road trip.
- Travel sized games to entertain you on the journey.
- A Max Factor nail polish so you can travel in style.
- A travel pillow so you can catch some much needed Zzz’s.
- A universal car charger to keep you connected on the go.
- A £50 supermarket voucher to stock up on travel essentials (snacks, tissues, etc.).
How to play? It’s easy. Leave us a comment indicating which animals appear in the farm episode. A winner will be selected at random within the right answers on Saturday July 12 at noon. Good luck!